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Strengthening D.C. Connections

As Colby Duren took a call from Washington D.C. updating him on what is, and what is not, happening with the COVID-19 relief legislation being considered by Congress, Zach Ducheneaux – IAC Executive Director said the moment only affirmed what makes it so relevant and timely making Duren the new Director of Policy and Government Relations for the IAC.

“One of the things that excited me about bringing Colby on board is the fact that we would normally be receiving or reviewing this type of information second or third hand. We now will have in-the-moment policy analysis,” Ducheneaux said. “Colby has a real, granular knowledge of the work we are doing and our policy interests – from the pavement to the prairie grass.”

“IAC has been the preeminent Technical Assistance provider for 30 years, but we have not always been good at telling our story and haven’t had a constant presence to advocate for the policy set forth during our annual conference. Colby’s role helps give us even more efficacy in the policy arena,” Ducheneaux went on.

In his new role, Duren will lead IAC’s Washington, D.C.-based, policy and advocacy initiatives, including the Native Farm Bill Coalition work, now housed under the IAC thanks to a thoughtful investment by the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF). His background of more than 13 years of experience in federal Indian law and policy – specifically focused on food, agriculture, nutrition, natural resources, and economic development, including work on three Farm Bills – makes him positioned well to serve the IAC mission.

Prior to joining the IAC, Colby served as Director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law (IFAI) and was IFAI’s Policy Director and Staff Attorney before becoming Director. In those roles, he supported the establishment of the Native Farm Bill Coalition in 2017, an effort that included the IAC as founding organization and led to 63 Tribal-specific changes in the 2018 Farm Bill.

“I am committed to this policy work because I know how cohesive, strong, and important of an effort it is, and I am honored to be a part of it,” Duren said about joining the IAC team.

“Everything with IAC is solution-based. I've been able to see IAC creating change by not only pointing out the problem, but illustrating exactly what the issue is and what can be done to change it.”

Duren was compelled to address food issues early, growing up watching and learning from the example set by his mom, Doreen Duren, who served as an elementary school principal, “I’ve always known the importance of the food and nutrition programs and watched my mom ensure that all students had access to food programs at her school while making sure the students felt supported and not ostracized.”

“People need a chance to weigh-in on the process,” Duren pointed out, noting all too often voices are left out from the table, or not even invited. “I want to help show how decisions really impact people on the ground level. Too often there is just a small segment of people making decisions for such large numbers. If we want to make real changes, we must have connections with people on the ground level. If you are not at the table, you cannot have a say in the process. I want to help change that.”

Passionate to see real change and open doors to information from the sometimes buckled-up beltway, Duren said, “I witnessed my first IAC meeting in 2014 and being with that many people together supporting food and agriculture production in Indian Country – I was inspired and knew I wanted to help in the effort.”

A team player with the legal background and continued education to wade through Washington D.C. policy building, Duren simply wants to see success, “With the IAC’s focus on agriculture and food in its entirety, it provides an incredible opportunity to help provide change for so many people across Indian Country. It’s about bringing the recognition forward to Congress that food and agriculture is entirely holistic and that we must look at the entire food system.”

“Being able to offer a large slate and plethora of solutions in a bi-partisan fashion and building out partnerships with other organizations is exciting as well,” Duren said in closing. “It’s about trying to come up with the solutions that lead to the best possible outcomes for everyone.”

D.C. Connections:

With a new Administration and new Congress being seated in January 2021, the policy efforts start right away. “We’re looking forward to working on both administrative and legislative efforts to help tribal governments and tribal producers immediately, as well as beginning the work on the 2023 Farm Bill,” Duren said.

How to reach Colby Duren:

About Colby:

In addition to the experience within the story above, Colby served as Staff Attorney and Legislative Counsel for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in Washington, DC, advocating on behalf of Tribal Nations on agriculture, land, and natural resources issues. He also was a Legal Assistant and Law Clerk for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) Washington, DC office, and a Paralegal and Legislative Assistant at Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC in Washington, DC and specialized in food and agriculture policy, and represented Tribes on land reparation and agriculture issues.

Colby earned his law degree from the American University Washington College of Law in Washington, DC, and his Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. He is also earning LL.M. from the University of Arkansas School of Law in Agricultural and Food Law in December 2020. Colby is licensed to practice in Maryland, the District of Columbia, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and the United States Supreme Court.

In 2016, Colby was nominated by the Native American Bar Association of Washington, DC for its Significant Contribution in Indian Law Award for his work on environmental issues in Indian

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